Friday, August 19, 2011

Could the Baltic Sea become a model region for clean shipping?

When we think of the northern part of the Baltic Sea countries, it is easy to state that the easiest and also environmentally friendliest way of transporting goods there is by sea. This can also be seen in the statistics; the amount of ships operating in the area has been constantly growing. In Finland 75% of import and 89% of export is transported by sea.

The international requirements for reducing harmful air emissions are getting more stringent, while the traffic increases. The Baltic Sea is a sulphur emission control area (SECA), which means that the amount of sulphur dioxide in the exhaust gases must be reduced heavily by the year 2015. Suggestions about a nitrogen emission control area (NECA) are still under consideration, but most likely it will eventually become a reality.

Sounds easy and convenient, right? Simply follow the regulations and cut down the emissions! Obviously a suitable solution for fighting against eutrophication and negative health effects, no more breathing in the harmful particles. At this stage a normal citizen says yes, but the industry and shipping companies cry for help.

There are some innovative solutions available for reconstructing old ship engines for reducing the emissions. New low-sulphure fuels and natural gases are under development and available to some extent, but will cost a lot of money and time for ship-owners. If the new IMO regulations are applied in restricted areas only, shipping costs on the Baltic Sea will rise, increasing the demand for road transport and even forcing the land-based industry to move or its production away from the Baltic Sea Region. Naturally, the environmental impact from shipping will drop, but the same effects will be multiplied on the roads, and the competitiveness of the industry may become permanently damaged.

There is a strong possibility, that these regulations are not applied for Europe as a whole. In that case we need to think carefully, how to convert this challenge into our competitive advantage. Our Baltic Sea is already one of the most polluted sea areas in the world – people working among the shipping business don’t want to be famous for making the situation even worse. Instead they could be proud pioneers for making the sea transport chain greener and – most importantly – respond quickly to a new kind of demand, when the friendliness to the environment becomes part of the customer value.

In Finland we already see the attitudes changing – a passenger ship company has gained a lot of positive publicity by ordering a new vessel, which runs on liquefied natural gas. There has been discussion about a financial support from the government for this kind of environmental solutions. This is a good example of the public opinion having a huge role in the decision-making process.

Mia Hytti

Writer works for the BSR InnoShip project, which addresses the common challenge of the Baltic Sea countries and the key maritime stakeholders to co-operate in minimizing ship-based air pollution, while aiming at optimizing competitiveness of the maritime industry.

Picture by: Mia Hytti

1 comment:

  1. Thank You for Your contribution to this subject. The relevant IMO regulations which are inevitably rising costs in the logistical chain, are not only problematic for the shipowner and the industry. One of the scenarios of concern include a total redeployment of such industry, which requires easy and inexpensive sea transport for large quantities. It is concievable, that this would have an unexpected effects in our security of supply during a crisis. For a Finn, A functioning sea logistics means not only a reasonable price level, but an insurance too.

    Kaapo M. Seppala,
    Centre for Maritime Studies